What is DIY Solar?
DIY solar panels aren’t panels you have to build from scratch (phew!). Instead, they refer to solar system kits that ship directly from a warehouse to your doorstep. You’ll be responsible for taking care of the installation — either by building it yourself or hiring a local contractor to help.
A DIY solar panel installation involves:
- Configuring and designing your personalized solar system based on your unique energy needs (this includes choosing the size and number of solar panels)
- Filing for permits with your local building authority and utility company
- Buying your solar panels, racks, inverters, and other essential solar panel equipment
- Mounting the solar panels and connecting them to your racking system and inverter
- Programming your system settings and flipping the switch!
Does DIY Solar Save Money?
Yes! According to a 2019 solar industry report produced by NREL, turnkey installer Vivint charges $3.25 to $3.50 per watt to build a solar system, with $1.78 per watt going toward installation costs.
That means more than 50% of your project costs go toward installation, a job most homeowners are perfectly capable of handling themselves.
For the average home solar system producing around 6.9 kW (6900 watts), you would stand to save more than $12,000 by installing your own system. Not bad for a few weeks of work!
Not sure if you’re equipped to tackle your DIY solar project? Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. When you purchase your solar panels from Wholesale Solar, our team of seasoned solar designers will guide the way. We offer free solar estimates, system sizing and design, permit help, tech support, shipping on complete system kits, and other tools and resources along the way.
I Don’t Have a Construction Background. Is DIY Solar Installation Still Possible?
Building your own solar system sounds like a huge undertaking, but many of our customers are happy to report that the DIY solar process is easier than it first appears.
Most solar components are plug-and-play, meaning every cable snaps into a dedicated port. And since we provide a as part of your system package, there’s no guesswork about which cable goes where. Everything’s clearly labeled; all you have to do is plug it in. Installing your own system requires some other basic skills. You should be able to:
- Tighten screws and bolts in place with a wrench / screwdriver
- Lift up to 75 pounds (recruit a friend if needed!)
- Dig holes and pour concrete (applies to ground mounts only)
- Wire the system to your electrical service panel
That’s about it!
The last point is the only one some people don’t feel comfortable with. But that’s okay: many of our customers choose to bring in a licensed electrician for the final electrical hookup, typically paying a few hundred dollars for 1-2 hours of work.
That’s the beauty of a DIY project like this. You have the freedom to do whatever you’re comfortable with and leave the rest to professionals. No matter your approach, we’ll walk you through it every step of the way.
What are the Pros and Cons of DIY Solar?
Learning how to install solar panels requires extensive research and plenty of hard work. We know it’s not for everyone, so we want to highlight the pros and cons of DIY Solar approach and let you decide for yourself.
Some DIY solar panels pros and cons to consider:
- Save on most labor costs (which can account for over 50% of a traditional solar panel installation cost). For an average-sized system, you could pocket more than $12,000 by installing it yourself
- Design your solar electric system from scratch to suit your specific needs. Choose from a wider selection of brands and only buy as much as you need (no “one-size-fits-all” packages).
- Speed up your payback period. If you install your own system and claim the federal solar tax credit, your grid-tie system can pay for itself in as little as 3-6 years.
- Fewer unexpected costs and surprises along the way. You’re in control of everything
- It’s hard work. You have to put in a lot of sweat equity to make your DIY solar dreams a reality. Finishing your build is immensely rewarding, but some homeowners may not have the time to commit to a project like this.
- Some local building departments may not allow DIY solar projects. Especially for off-grid systems, certain jurisdictions require solar systems to be built by a certified professional.
- Professionals typically offer a 5-10 year labor warranty when they install a system. If you go DIY, you’re solely accountable for the quality of your work.
Who is Wholesale Solar?
Wholesale Solar distributes solar electric equipment direct to consumers. We sell individual solar components, as well as complete system packages suitable for grid-tie, off-grid, energy storage, RV/mobile, and commercial applications.
Since 2002, we’ve shown homeowners, installers, and commercial clients how to install their own solar power systems. We have helped more than 10,000 thrilled DIY solar customers achieve energy independence. Now it’s your turn.
- 100% Employee-owned (we benefit by working for you)
- USA-based (offices in California and Oregon)
- One of the highest rated solar companies on Google (4.8/5 Stars)
- Industry-leading design & support techs (before, during & after installation)
- Live USA-based sales & support team (available by phone, chat or email)
DIY Solar Panels
Can I Build Solar Panels on my Own?
Solar panels have increased drastically in popularity, as more people want to self-sustain their household with the electricity demands. To make solar panels more affordable for everyone in the UK, the government has set up incentives like solar panel grants. Even so, investing in solar panels can still be a considerable investment which some are not prepared to make. So what else is there to do? Build it yourself of course.
To get straight to the point, yes, you can build your own solar panels, or at least partially, depending on the craftsmanship of each person. The process DIY includes sizing the solar panel system, choosing which components suits your needs, mounting and installing the solar panels, the solar inverter and safety disconnects. Even if you do not fully install the solar panels, the more that is done, the less expensive it would be to hire a certified technician.
Installing Electrical System
Circuitry can be the tricky part of installing solar panels on your own, but with minimum knowledge about wiring, this can be achieved by anyone. Of course if you do not feel confident to do this part on your own, it would be best to hire a certified electrician to do the wiring and metering into your house.
How to Establish the Perfect Solar System Size
When setting on a solar system, the proportions of the household as well as the electricity needs have to be taken into consideration. Generally, larger households tend to require more energy to power them and the appliances. The most common solar system size for households in the UK is the 4kW system, which can accommodate a modest sized house.
Installing a Grid Tie Solar System
You can install a grid tie solar system if your household is already plugged into utility power. Grid tie systems are easier to install than off grid and can easily be expanded, depending on each house’s needs. It is recommended to have an electrician or licensed contractor do the final wiring hook up.
Installing an Off Grid Solar System
Installation of off grid solar systems is suitable for individuals who would like to be self-dependent on energy. It is highly recommended to hire a certified technician when installing off grid solar systems. Certain government incentives apply when doing so, which can save a considerable amount of money on the purchasing and installation of solar panels.
Difficulties in DIY Solar Panels
The main obstacle to building solar panels is acquiring solar cells at a reasonable price. New solar cells are very expensive to purchase, and can even be hard to find in larger quantity at any price. Second hand solar cells are available on the internet and other places at a fraction of the cost of new perfect cells. However these second rate solar cells could be in poor condition which could significantly reduce the panel efficiency.
Get Quotes on Solar Panels
If you have decided to invest in solar panels, but you are not sure which type you would like, we are ready to help you. Fill out the form on this page with your personal preferences and information, and we will provide you with up to four different suppliers of solar panels. You are free to choose the offer that best suits your needs. The service is free, without obligation, and takes only a few minutes.
Building solar panels: how to make your own solar system
When you install solar panels, your home produces its own clean, zero-emissions electricity. If you’re DIY-minded, you can build your own solar power system. In some cases, you can even build your own solar panels, although the amount that you can effectively DIY home solar depends on how much you want to power.
Learn how to make your own solar panels
Making your own solar panel is a time-consuming process and requires some electrical skills. However, it can also be very rewarding – learning to build your own PV panel is a great way to understand how solar electricity is generated.
Before you can build your own solar panels, you first need to understand how solar cells generate electricity. The vast majority of solar panels in use today are made of crystalline silicon wafers, which typically measure six inches square. When the sun shines on those wafers, the electrons in them start to move. This flow of electrons is an electrical current.
A single full-sized solar panel, like the kind used in rooftop solar power systems, will have 60 silicon wafers. You can also make smaller panels if your electricity needs are low. Once you’ve bought individual solar cells (they can be purchased online), the basic process for building your own solar panel goes like this:
- Prepare the backing for your panel. Many DIY solar panel builders use a wooden board as the base for their solar cells. You’ll need to drill holes in the board so that the wires for each cell can pass through.
- Wire your solar cells together. This requires some experience with electrical work. Use a soldering iron to attach wire to the solar cells and then link each of the cells together.
- Attach cells to your backing. If possible, affix each solar cell to the backing individually. This makes it easier to replace a single cell in the event that becomes damaged or is not operating properly.
At this point you have a functional solar panel that can produce electricity when the sun shines. However, a solar panel by itself is not useful. If you are trying to generate electricity to power devices in your home, you need to pair your panel with an inverter that will turn direct current (DC) power from the sun into the alternating current (AC) power used in most modern electronic devices.
For a standalone off-grid system, you will also need to include a battery pack and charge controller in your DIY solar setup. The battery pack serves to store excess energy, and the charge controller manages the amount of electricity that flows through the battery.
If you want to build a solar panel system that will power your home, the process is significantly more complicated. A standard grid-connected solar PV system that can power your home will have around 20 solar panels, each of which will need to be wired together and mounted to your roof (or in an unshaded ground location on your property). Most importantly, a qualified electrician has to confirm your system has been built correctly before your utility will allow you to connect your panels to the electric grid.
Build your own solar panel system, or work with an installer
Whether you DIY your own solar panel system with a solar kit or work with an experienced solar installer depends on why you want to install solar.
For small-scale off-grid installations, you can DIY it
Solar panels are portable and convenient for a variety of off-grid uses. You don’t even have to build your own solar panels if you don’t want to – there are inexpensive solar panel kits for sale that include each of the components you’ll need for a DIY solar installation. Building your own solar panel system is a good option if you want to construct a small off-grid system to power a cabin, RV, boat, or tiny home.
For a whole-home solar panel system, work with a solar installer
When it comes to installing a full-scale solar power system on your property, working with a solar installer with significant experience can save you both time and money in the long run. Some of the top solar companies have been installing solar energy systems for decades – experience that no amount of online research or DIY guides can replicate. Your solar installer can also help you find the financial incentives available in your area and complete the permits and applications necessary to get your solar energy system up and running.
To get a sense for how much you can save by installing a solar panel system for your home, review an instant solar estimate from EnergySage’s Solar Calculator. If you’re debating between building your own solar power system and working with an installer, get a few quotes from local solar companies to see what it would cost. You can easily compare options from qualified installers in your area for free by joining the EnergySage Solar Marketplace.
The pros and cons of DIY solar
Solar is a trendy thing in 2020 and many adventurous homeowners are beginning to wonder about “DIY solar panels” – the concept of building a solar panel system by yourself. Of course, there’s a lot involved in a solar installation and there’s a right and a wrong scenario for do-it-yourself solar projects.
Going solar has major financial benefits: it reduces your monthly electricity costs and can even increase the value of your home. Incentives like the federal tax credit for solar can reduce your net cost by 26 percent or more, but solar is still a big investment, and the price tag can result in sticker shock. To save money, it’s no surprise that many homeowners are considering DIY. Below, we break down the top pros and cons that you need to know about do it yourself solar energy before making a decision as well as the DIY solar process.
- Installing a DIY system is possible and usually comes at a lower cost than hiring a solar installer
- Going with a DIY setup requires much more work on the homeowner’s end
- You can compare competitive, complete solar quotes from installers on the EnergySage Marketplace
The 5 step process to DIY solar panels
- Design and size your system based on energy needs
- Purchase your solar equipment (solar panels, inverters, racking)
- Install the racking or mounts for the panels
- Connect the solar panels to your racking equipment
- Install a solar inverter
Do it yourself solar panel installation can be less expensive, but your options are limited
According to data from the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, the average gross cost of going solar for homeowners (meaning your costs before incentives and rebates are applied) is $17,460. Of that amount, design and installation labor costs contribute about ten percent of the total bill – this ten percent is what homemade solar panels will save you in essence, since you’ll still have to buy the equipment yourself. Regardless, it’s still tempting to look into building your own solar panel installation to save money and be in full control of your project.
Your solar energy system should continue to generate electricity for 25 to 35 years, so it’s crucial that you consider both the upfront costs and the relative financial benefits for all of your solar options. If you buy a home solar kit like the ones for sale at Costco or Home Depot, it may be less expensive per watt, but you aren’t getting the same quality equipment that solar installers are able to offer you. For the most part, solar installers buy from equipment distributors that don’t sell to the general public – and they’re often getting lower prices because they’re able to buy in bulk.
Pro: Build your own solar works for small off-grid projects
Most home solar kits are designed for off-grid use, which means you can’t use them and remain connected to your utility. If you’re an average homeowner, going off-grid is probably not in your best interest – being able to access utility-generated electricity is important if your solar energy system doesn’t produce enough electricity to meet your needs at all times of the day throughout the year.
However, home solar kits can be a good solution if you’re not trying to power your entire home. RVs, boats, and the increasingly popular tiny houses are all opportunities to explore do it yourself solar, because they are already off-grid and mobile.
On a related subject, DIY solar projects can be useful if you have a large property and want to power an outlying area, like a barn or tool shed, or want to easily install outdoor lights. In those cases, your electricity demands will be relatively low, so purchasing a small home solar kit and installing it yourself is feasible.
If you want to install a DIY solar project, compare several options beforehand. Grape Solar is a major manufacturer (among a few others), and offers a few different DIY products for both grid-tied and off-grid systems, which you can find more information on below.
DIY solar options
Con: Installing solar is complicated, homemade solar energy requires training and experience
When you decide to DIY your solar panels, remember that you get what you pay for. A home solar kit may be less expensive, but solar installers offer tremendous value for relatively little additional cost (remember that ten percent figure?). When it comes to installing an expensive electrical system on your property, finding someone who knows what they’re doing can actually save you both time and money in the long run.
Some of the best solar installers have been in the business for decades – experience that no amount of online research or DIY guides can replicate. Every state requires that installers are licensed and qualified to install solar, and independent certifications like the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners’ (NABCEP’s) Solar PV Installation Professional Certification ensure that the company you choose to work with has an intimate understanding of the process.
Your solar installer will also help you complete and file the permits and applications that you need to submit to get your solar energy system up and running. This is particularly important because your utility won’t let you connect your system to the grid without sign-off from a certified electrician.
Because of your solar installer’s experience, they’ll also have a strong understanding of the financial incentives for solar available in your area, and might even be able to help you save more money by finding an incentive that you may have missed. Lastly, it is important to note that many equipment manufacturers will only honor their warranties if a qualified installer installed their equipment. Many installers will also offer an additional warranty on their own work too.
Still wondering if DIY solar is right for you? Check out our video outlining the most common questions that come up with do-it-yourself solar projects:
There are other (better) ways to save money on your solar installation
Of course, when making such a big decision for your home, you’ll want to find the solar option that has the greatest financial benefit for you. However, DIY solar energy isn’t the only way to save money when going solar.
Three Tips for Solar Shoppers
1. Homeowners who get multiple quotes save 10% or more
As with any big-ticket purchase, shopping for a solar panel installation takes a lot of research and consideration, including a thorough review of the companies in your area. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recommended that consumers compare as many solar options as possible to avoid paying inflated prices offered by the large installers in the solar industry.
To find the smaller contractors that typically offer lower prices, you’ll need to use an installer network like EnergySage. You can receive free quotes from vetted installers local to you when you register your property on our Solar Marketplace – homeowners who get 3 or more quotes can expect to save $5,000 to $10,000 on their solar panel installation.
2. The biggest installers typically don’t offer the best price
The bigger isn’t always better mantra is one of the main reasons we strongly encourage homeowners to consider all of their solar options, not just the brands large enough to pay for the most advertising. A recent report by the U.S. government found that large installers are $2,000 to $5,000 more expensive than small solar companies. If you have offers from some of the big installers in solar, make sure you compare those bids with quotes from local installers to ensure you don’t overpay for solar.
3. Comparing all your equipment options is just as important
National-scale installers don’t just offer higher prices – they also tend to have fewer solar equipment options, which can have a significant impact on your system’s electricity production. By collecting a diverse array of solar bids, you can compare costs and savings based on the different equipment packages available to you.
There are multiple variables to consider when seeking out the best solar panels on the market. While certain panels will have higher efficiency ratings than others, investing in top-of-the-line solar equipment doesn’t always result in higher savings. The only way to find the “sweet spot” for your property is to evaluate quotes with varying equipment and financing offers.